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Saturday, 12 May, 2001, 14:52 GMT 15:52 UK
Philippines' opposed personalities
President Gloria Arroyo and former president Joseph Estrada
Mrs Arroyo visited Joseph Estrada in prison
By Damian Grammaticas in Manila

The Philippines remains deeply divided between supporters of the former president, Joseph Estrada and the faction of the woman who ousted him from power, the current President Gloria Arroyo.

The two could hardly be more different characters - the womanising former movie star, and the moral, upright, church-going woman who replaced him.

Police repel Estrada supporters from the Malacanang palace
Estrada supporters trying to storm the palace
And their very different public images are helping to deepen the divisions.

Poor Filipinos see Joseph Estrada as their friend, and they loathe the establishment that ousted him.

During an attempt to storm the presidential palace in the first week of May, one protester shouted: "They don't know how to understand the people. The people of the Philippines are suffering... they don't understand us.

"I like that the real president should sit down to his position. During the time of President Joseph Estrada, he lowered the price of the rice and the sugar."

Black sheep

In 1998, Mr Estrada won the presidency with the biggest majority in Philippines history. He was the first president elected by the poor without the support of the elites.

Nelson Navarro, a political commentator says although Mr Estrada was born in a mansion, the masses see him as one of them.

The closest analogy I have is Evita Peron. The poor really identify with him, with what he stands for

Former Estrada spokesman Jerry Barrican
"Joseph Estrada is the black sheep in his family, who never finished any education, who is a college drop out," he said.

"But he found his calling in the movies where he played the tough guy with a heart of gold. This Robin Hood character who would stake everything for the lady that he loved, who would defend the lowest of the low against criminals, drug lords, an unjust government, who will shoot it out for their sake."

The mass of Erap's supporters still believe he is the rightful president, not Gloria Arroyo who replaced him. She was not elected but propelled into the position.

For them she was born into privilege - the daughter of a president, she studied in America and married a wealthy man.

Fall from power

Joey da Lina served in Mr Estrada's cabinet, where she knew both.

"President Arroyo is cold and maybe aloof perhaps because of her upbinging. She was the president's daughter and quite well educated, and maybe it's not in her character to be that sociable, " she said.

"Estrada who is so warm, he is that warm to everybody who gets in to his immediate circle."

Mr Estrada's fall from power has only strengthened his anti-establishment appeal.

This is the princess striking a pose for the poor and it falls flat

Political commentator Nelson Navarro
When the masses elected him they knew he was a gambler and a womaniser with illegitmate children. The allegations he plundered from the state have not dented his popularity.

The poor are still prepared to take to the streets to fight for him because they believe he was no worse than many other Filipino leaders.

Jerry Barrican, who is a former spokesman for Mr Estrada, said: "The closest analogy I have is Evita Peron. The poor really identify with him, with what he stands for.

"That is no no reflection on his own personal conduct. On the other side you had the establishment, from the church to the army, the intellectuals, the media who were just appalled by this whole development."

'Perfect stage'

The army never stepped in to help Mr Estrada. But it has defended the church-going Mrs Arroyo and put down the revolt by the poor. It has only strenghtened their perception that the establishment is against them.

Mrs Arroyo also paints herself as a defender of the downtrodden, but now Estrada is in custody, Nelson Navarro says he has the perfect stage.

"He's an actor. I mean he has all the techniques, he looks straight into the eye of the camera, all the sincerity, the quiver and crying over the welfare of the people, he has mastered that technique.

"He's just playing what he has always played successfully. She tries to be a champion of the poor also. But Gloria was born a princess. So this is the princess striking a pose for the poor and it falls flat."

The irony is that Joseph Estrada with his mansions and his mistresses was no Robin Hood.

Gloria Arroyo has policies that may do more for the 70% of Filipinos who are marginalised.

She just can't seem to strike the right note and win them over.

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See also:

02 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Philippines president widens crackdown
01 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Philippines acts to crush 'plot'
01 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Picture gallery: Manila demonstrations
25 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Jailed Estrada defiant
25 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
What next for Estrada?
25 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Estrada speaks to BBC from prison
01 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Arroyo on defensive
02 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Estrada hot topic for Manila press
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